February 19, 2012
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
And as they were coming down the mountain,
[Jesus] charged [Peter and James and John] to tell no one what they had seen,
until the Son of man should have risen from the dead.
Again with the secrecy. All it takes is two “immediately” and one “suddenly” for us to know that this is from Mark’s Gospel. And so far in our readings on Sunday morning, this secrecy has been with unclean spirits, then with a leper, and now with three of the Apostles.
It makes sense that Jesus doesn’t want advertising from unclean spirits. Because even if they tell the truth about him, it would not help his credibility.
But now it is his Apostles that aren’t supposed to tell anyone what they have seen. Until, and here is the key, until the Son of man should have risen from the dead. This scene with Moses and Elijah, the healings, the preaching, the staring down the Roman Empire, the voice of God coming out of the cloud and saying, “this is my beloved Son; listen to him!”, none of this will mean all that it needs to mean without the crucifixion and the resurrection.
This whole scene is full of what it means to follow Jesus. The disciples see Jesus with Moses, the giver of the law, and Elijah, the prophet who was taken up into heaven by a chariot of fire. In each of these figures we see the combination of the two pillars of faith in God’s covenant – namely worship and ethics.
Praise and prayer to God, acknowledging God’s majesty, giving thanks to God for what God has done – both Moses and Elijah did these very well. When the people of Israel passed through the sea of reeds and the waters cut off Pharaoh’s army, the first thing Moses did was sing a song of praise to God.
But praise by itself is not enough. Praise and worship without righteousness is empty. James would say that faith without works is dead. So too, praise and worship without ethics is dead. I mean by righteousness and ethics the same thing: how we treat one another, how we take care of one another, how we live with integrity and compassion. Our thankfulness to God must translate into our actions with one another.
This is nothing new. When asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus answers:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the great and first commandment.
And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.
They go together, one with the other. And it is this second part, loving our neighbor as ourselves, that often gives us trouble. Love, in this context, is not about sentimentality. It is not about romance or Valentines. It is not about simply being nice. Love in this context is about how we do our business dealings, how we negotiate with our neighbors over property disputes, how we handle our conflicts, and how we share our coats, our food, our shelter with those in need.
The word Jesus grew up hearing that was used for love meant covenantal faithfulness.
So the one leg of our faith is thankfulness, and the other is our way of treating our neighbor. Walking in Jesus’ footsteps requires both legs.
And we discover how true this is when we try and make the world a better place without restoring our souls through worship and fellowship. We burn out. We succumb to compassion fatigue. We forget our goal and settle for what is.
Worship informs and energizes our service. Service makes real and tangible the faith we have in worship.
How often in the Bible does God reject the worship of the people who heap up the sacrifices but do not care for the poor, the widow, the foreigner?
How often in the Bible does God deny the prayers of those who seek only their own good and not covenantal faithfulness with their neighbor?
It is just a few verses later in the psalm that we read “I will accept no bull from your house.” I doubt the translators of the RSV had our modern idiom in mind, but it works.
And then there is Peter, who wants to build a shrine up here on the mountain. Jesus has to redirect him again. It is fine to have this amazing mountaintop spiritual moment with the pillars of our faith and the voice of God speaking words of blessing and Jesus transfigured into a shining and radiant being. But now it is time to go back down and do the work that is needed in the valley.
The true shape and meaning of worship and ethical living comes to light when we realize how far God will go to make real God’s love for us, how far God goes to save us. So don’t speak of it until the Son of man should have risen from the dead. Only then will we know how far God stoops to show us the difference between the ways of the world in crucifixion, and the love of God in resurrection.
Thanks be to God. Amen.